This is #11 in my series on India. If you are new to my blog and would like to start at the beginning, just follow the link below.
My Australian companion did a good job of keeping his energies up as we walked the noisy, fume-filled streets last night. I spoke to this firefighter from Melbourne over a lengthy breakfast before deciding he was probably honourable. He chaperoned me, at my request, most chivalrously through some local streets to satisfy my curiosity for a nighttime adventure in Jodhpur. Inside a Hare Krishna temple, we found quietness and chatted more easily. I enjoyed taking the piss out of someone a bit and appreciated being easily understood whilst speaking ‘strine’ with ease. He and his Swiss companion came through Delhi after a month in Nepal – a place where people are considered to be more honest and genuine. From the start of their India experience they were frustrated by Indian duplicity. The currency crisis further disheartened them and they struggled to stay fed. At our haveli, the food was a comfort and easily paid for by Eftpos. A Nepalese man named Lal (meaning red in Nepali) was the kindly and attentive cook. I missed him as soon as I’d left him with a 400 rupee ($8.00AU) tip. Lal was one of thousands of Nepalese workers who migrate to Northern India, seeking work to send money home to families. Each morning, he had brought me poha, masala chai and a gentle greeting, despite looking dishevelled from sleeping the night on the kitchen floor. When I thanked him for his attentive service, he always replied with a sweet-voiced ‘Welcome‘.
But not all men on my travels were easy company. A horror haveli on my first night in Udaipur was my first taste of this. Broken glass in the bay windows and cracked breeze blocks above my bed made easy entry points for an intruder, which seemed possible after meeting some of the all-male staff who could be best described as insincere and lazy. The worst aspect of this hotel was the management; a hideous, pock-faced brute with an eye for women gave a bad impression from the first phone call I made to the place. A couple from Israel whom I’d met back in Jodhpur had warned me about him and I soon knew what they meant by their comments – that was far too interested in his female guests. I slept only a few hours in a bed with filthy linen (my pillow smelled of someone’s bad breath) with a red light on and one eye open. According to the BBC, every 20 minutes, a woman in India is raped. I checked there was no one hiding under the bed before attempting sleep.
The horror haveli featured a broken bidet, no toilet paper and no hot water – enough for me to declare this over-priced shit hole unhygienic, as well as unsafe. I got out quickly after breakfast and I now know better than to stay even a minute in a place I don’t feel I can rest in. Upon checking out, the moneyman tried to give me the demonetised 500 rupee note in change. Still, I was satisfied to get my revenge with a damning review on Trip Advisor. Using my theraband and a doorstop, I has been advised to take the small precaution each night of fortifying any doors into my hotel rooms. I do have my wits about me, though this is not quite as protective as medieval steel spikes on one’s door.
To leave Jodhpur, I’d had to leap before I could look. Around seven hours (and costing $60.00AU) in a car with an over-confident man who coughed and spluttered over his steering wheel, stared lustfully at me in his rearview with harsh eyes and pushed the conversation toward ‘marital relations’ several times. He wanted to watch me squirm – there was nothing nice about this creep. He kept me waiting while he had long cigarette breaks, chatting to mates and making stops to suit himself. When he pulled off the highway and came to a quick stop, I prepared myself to run. He said he had a flat and I didn’t believe him – he’d inspired no trust so far. Luckily, there were people around and he genuinely had a flat tyre to change, which he did at speed. Upon arrival at Udaipur, he refused to drive me to my haveli and instead left me with a walk uphill with all of my bags. If he’d hailed me a tuk tuk, he’d have pocketed half the fare for himself, thereby earning more money by doing less work. I was glad to be rid of him and highly unimpressed that his car window was stickered with the words, “We Respect Women”. Bullshit by anyone’s standards.
I have learnt that in India, patriarchy and pollution* are so interconnected as to be one and the same. Each day, I watched men who spend their time lazing in shop spaces will spit, shit, throw chai cups, plastic bottles and fluttery little foil packets into the street with no concern. In the early mornings, I then saw women stooped with pan and brush (or just their hands) clearing the gutters of cow and dog shit and the detritus of men, only to see the same area disgraced upon within minutes. The women spend the rest of their day and night cooking, cleaning, working indoors, cooking and cleaning again only to be raised before dawn to light the stove once more. It is a shameful cycle that preserves inequality.
So it became hard to see beauty and to enjoy the freedom of travel after spending my days noticing men and their rubbish and feeling like an outsider, unable to ‘clean up the problems in another country’s backyard’ so to speak. By this point in my journey, I knew I needed the company of women to comfort my heart; chiefly, some quality FaceTime to two female friends from home, plus the incredible women I meet in my next blog post.
*India is currently responsible for 60% of plastic dumped into the ocean each year and their poor air quality is largely due to illegal mass burning of plastic. According to 1 Million Women, the Indian government has recently banned plastic bags, cutlery, chai cups and other items in their capital, New Delhi. In other words, they are removing single-use plastic from the market, starting with their biggest, most polluted city. It’s a huge step and in my lifetime, I’d like to see that happen. I won’t hold my breath until it does. Whilst men remain in charge of consumption and are responsible for the majority of pollution (as described above), any change will be short lived. And given that the Indian birth rate more than doubles their death rate, they have an increasing need to manage human and disposable waste.
Strine – how English sounds when spoken by Australians.
Poha – a fantastically filling breakfast dish made of dried rice flakes, peanuts, tomatoes, onion, curry leaves, turmeric and a few other surprises.
Masala chai – Masala means spiced, chai means tea. If you ask for chai, you are asking for tea without spice, like the British make it. The masala part means with those gorgeous spices you want. The spices can range depending on the region or the maker. Most probably cardamom, cove, cinnamon, pepper and black tea leaves will brew together. Milk is added and is often pre-boiled, resulting in a wrinkly skin developing over the cooling drink.
Want to keep reading…?
12. India: Women
13. India: Dogs
14. India: Art
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